Three thousand midwives are gathered today in Durban, South Africa.
Think about that! Three thousand midwives, from all over the world, are gathered in one city, determined to bring healthy birth to every corner of the world.
If three thousand midwives can be in Durban, think about how many more midwives there are in the world who stayed home to catch babies. That is the amazing number! So many more than three thousand. Thousands and thousands of women have made it their life’s work to guide babies into this world with love, care, compassion, and deep respect for the rhythms of nature. Midwives are doing this work, yet they remain largely invisible. In some places, they are even still persecuted. I was so happy to give birth to my second child in Ontario, where midwifery is not only legal, but fully supported by the government.
No wonder, then, that the president of the International Confederation of Midwives comes from Canada, eh?
So many modern women in Canada and the United States and Europe think the word “midwife” refers to uneducated women from the 1700s who helped women give birth before modern medicine stepped in. My undergraduates invariably pronounce “midwifery” “MID-WIFE-ERY” when I teach about birth in medical anthropology. They’ve never seen or heard that word before. (They can usually pronounce “obstetrician” just fine!)
I am so grateful that I live in 2011, so that I have access to obstetricians AND midwives. We are SO blessed in our time. And in our place.
The balance between midwifery (the science and art of low-risk pregnancy and birth that requires low-tech watching and waiting, mostly) and obstetrics (the science and art of high-risk pregnancy and birth that requires high-tech interventions) is what makes birth so safe in our modern world. Ironically, the places in the world where there isn’t enough midwifery, like the United States, and the places in the world where there isn’t enough obstetrics, like rural Africa or rural India, suffer from the same problem: bad birth outcomes. Why is that? Well, when we treat a low-risk pregnancy like a high-risk pregnancy we create bad outcomes. And when we treat a high-risk pregnancy like a low-risk pregnancy we create bad outcomes.
Worst of all, of course, is when a pregnant woman has no access to care at all.
We desperately need more midwives in the world! You can follow the International Confederation of Midwives in Africa this week at http://www.internationalmidwives.org.
Here’s a taste from their press release:
Midwives from over 111 countries will gather today at the International Confederation of Midwives Triennial Congress in Durban, South Africa. They will call for governments worldwide to take the necessary steps to end to needless deaths of women in pregnancy and childbirth. Congress will start with an inaugural rally and march at 1.30pm on the 18th June, when 1000 Congress delegates and supporters will walk for 5km through the city. This is the first time ICM has held a Congress in Africa. The event and the march represent a show of solidarity with mothers and midwifery colleagues across a continent which has some of the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality in the world. According to global estimates around 364,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth each year. 99% of these deaths occur in low resource countries.